Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration.
In light of our impending move to Wallowa County, I have been scouring the house for things we no longer want or need for a yard sale. In the kitchen, I considered jars of wheat flour, corn meal and grits. I had written on the jars in Sharpie marker, which sticks to the glass really well and then comes off equally well, when it’s time to wash it, with the green scrubby part of a sponge.
I looked at those jars and realized I had filled and labeled them at the farm. So their contents were, at least, four years old. Dear god.
Meanwhile, I looked at bags of rice and beans that were not in jars. As I’ve documented in this blog, I’ve been ignoring the kitchen pretty much completely since we moved back to Portland. My husband has always been the main cook, but I’ve canned, made soup and baked some. And I’m sort of obsessive-compulsive about organizing the dry goods. At least, I used to be.
I could see that I’d been neglecting my duties here. There was no reason to keep four-year-old flour. Not that it had gone “bad” per se, but any flavor and nutritional value it once had would have faded by now. And here were these poor other dry goods, much fresher, languishing in their plastic bags.
I poured the rice into a jar, and as I did I watched a dark thing slide through. Unhulled rice? I stopped pouring, and the dark rice wiggled and—flew away! A pantry moth! There were moths in the rice! I realized that I had killed one the previous week and not thought anything of it. I should have known better. Because the moths lay eggs once they find their way in, there was nothing to do but compost the whole bag (if I had chickens, they would have gotten Rice with Protein Surprise).
Never store dry goods in the original packaging once you’ve opened it. You can tie it with a twist tie. You can wrap a rubber band around it a hundred times. Those moths will find a way in. I used to have “fashion” canisters that were square with rigid, plastic gaskets under the lids. Not good enough—moths found whatever tiny gaps were there.
I’ve never had to launch a full campaign against them, as described on this website. Removing the main food source has always sufficed (once, it was the dog food). My preferred storage is a large canning jar with a screw top or a rubber gasket and latch.
You do need to keep the rims of the jars clean, as the moths can get under the jar rings and eat any residual grain, even lay eggs there if undisturbed for a period of time. Airtight storage also extends the longevity of your ingredients. But not four years!